The Backdrop

As commissioners prepare for the 225th General Assembly, our prayers go out to them, for they will be meeting against a backdrop of much anxiety and fear. Our nation is in the grip of a gun violence epidemic, attempting to claw our way out of the pandemic, still trying to come to terms with our racist history and systems and experiencing a toxic public forum where threats have become common. With this setting, our commissioners will seek to proclaim the truth of the Gospel and offer hope to a broken nation.

After seeing progress on many fronts, we are now experiencing threats against minority communities in the US. The LGTBQ community is increasingly under assault, women’s reproductive rights are once again being threatened and extremists are trying to take over local school boards and implement white supremacist agendas. In addition, the Jewish community is experiencing a surge in anti-Semitic attacks on the right from Christian Nationalists and extreme rightwing activists and on the left by those who view Jews as global oppressors. The commissioners will be asked to speak to these issues and we pray for the Spirit’s guidance.

Following the decision to hold the 224th General Assembly virtually in 2020, many social justice issues were removed from the agenda and deferred to this summer, which was troubling to many of us who are concerned about peace and justice issues. Yes, PCUSA has made many statements in the past, but each GA enables us to reaffirm our values and our vision for the Kingdom. The 225th General Assembly will finally allow us to make these affirmations.

However, there are concerns with the upcoming GA. The PCUSA has always cherished healthy dialogue and debate on issues, coming before the GA committees. Testimony offered by expert witnesses help to put the overtures in proper context and ensure that all voices are heard. With committees being sequestered with a lack of expert testimony, will the voices of all be heard? Of particular concern to Presbyterians for Middle East Peace is the fact that the GA will consider a definition of anti-Semitism as well as issues related to the State of Israel, yet there will not be an opportunity for representatives of the American Jewish community to speak to such issues.

How can we entertain a definition of anti-Semitism without hearing the voices of the vast majority of the American Jewish community? When we act upon issues such as racism, we ensure that the voices of the marginalized and community of color are at the table, but on such an important action regarding Israelis and Palestinians, mainstream Jewish voices will be absent. A similar concern is raised regarding the overture accusing Israel as being an apartheid state. There will be no opportunity for experts to weigh into this conversation, whether those who support such an action, or those opposed to it. As has happened in the actions of several past General Assemblies,  an overture caricaturing Israel as a monster will cause tremendous damage to the relationships between our local congregations and the synagogues they work with on peace and justice issues. Can we afford to damage our local relationships without a healthy GA debate. If actions we take lack integrity of process, how can we, as a denomination, move forward together? How can our witness be seen as authentic rather than ideologically based?

We pray for guidance for our commissioners to act with heart and mind to heed the call of Christ. There are important issues at stake, and they actions must not be taken lightly.